30 Day Collection Update

It has been exactly one month since I collected 3 Bald Cypress and 1 Water Elm from the shores of Lake Marion here in South Carolina (see post here http://wp.me/p3pRJl-6g). Since that was my first adventure collecting quality trees, I have been more anxious than my 3 & 5 year old on Christmas Eve.

It took about 2 weeks to see new growth on my first cypress. As I predicted, the first signs of life came from the tree with the most dense fine roots. It also happens to be my favorite with the large knee on the side so I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I saw it pushing new buds.





You can see that most of the new shoots are near the top of the tree but the first noticeable growth was seen at the base. These trees are very apical with their growing habits so no surprise there. In another month or two I will have lots of bright green new foliage. My plan for this fine gentlemen will be a formal upright styling. The chop will be made lower and a new leader chosen next Spring. Right now I just want it to gain strength and continue recovering.

I also have some good action on the second tree with the smaller knee at the base. It produced new buds about 5 or 6 days later than the first and has been also doing very well. I have some different ideas for styling this one. The more I look at it, the more I dislike the roots on each side of the base.


The roots separate from the trunk higher up than what I like and just generally don’t appeal to me. I haven’t decided exactly what to do yet, but I will most likely do some carving at the base to fix the roots. Maybe a small cave like opening or something….we’ll see. I have a lot of time to decide and I still haven’t decided on the front.

Well…unfortunately…the third tree is most likely dead. Maybe not completely dead yet, but the lack of new foliage doesn’t give me any hope.


It’s a damn shame too because I love the killer base of this tree/dead stump.  I will continue to care for it for another month or so and keep my fingers crossed. It was chopped and worked in the same manner as the other two so my only guess is that the tree didn’t have as much initial strength built up as the others. You win some and you lose some. I still have a cool idea for the dead trunk though. It involves a saw, shellac, lamp parts, and a nice ambiance. Pics to come if that happens.

The Water Elm is doing extremely well and showed growth as early as the first cypress. One note on the water elm, it isn’t actually an elm but a close relative.  Everybody just calls it a water elm because somebody decided to do that….who am I to argue?

I wasn’t expecting it to do as well as it has considering the condition of the roots when I got it home. It proves to be a tough species that I wish I had more of. If I had room, I would head back and collect a few more. Everything I have now will be packed in a U-Haul for a move to Indiana this November so I have to be pretty selective.




I plan to chop this guy again as well next Spring to a leader about half way up the tree. I really like the movement to the left and will continue building my tree in that direction and developing taper. Give it about 5 years and this tree will be a real looker.

I also received a beautiful Arakawa Maple from Martin Sweeney a couple of weeks ago. I may make a small post about it in a couple of weeks to brag about how awesome I think it is.

Chinese Elm Update and Styling

I decided to work on my Chinese Elm today. After looking at it during my update post last week, I had to get my hands dirty. It has been growing like a weed and put on a lot of leggy growth this year. It has been in training for some time, but I dont know a lot of the specifics on the tree’s background.

You can see my first post about it here: http://wp.me/p3pRJl-4

Here it is today. The beer is for scale…kinda. It’s mighty hot here in Beaufort. You can see that it is very healthy and vigorous despite a repot at the beginning of the year. Since I didn’t do a real root trim and only removed a couple of the thick roots, it still had plenty of energy to blow up this year.


I decided to defoliate this tree for a couple of reasons. First, defoliating helps to induce new growth and create more ramification. Second, it’s hard to wire with the foliage on the branches. I could have waited to style it in the fall, but I wanted to take advantage of the tree’s current energy.


Ah! I'm nekkid!

Here’s a quick shot of the base.


There were several branches that had died back that I had to remove. I also removed a few of the longer thicker branches so they can even up as the tree matures. Another consideration is to match your styling to mature trees. Lower branches are thicker than upper branches in mature trees so you need to style your tree accordingly. To do this, trim your apical branches shorter and leave lower ones longer to thicken.


I stopped here to reevaluate and could easily tell that I needed to remove more.  You can see that my uppermost left branch is almost as thick as the lower left branch. The proportion would be way off in another 5 years. I will end up taking quite a bit off but I feel it is necessary when considering bonsai is a long term plan.


This was my final product after more trimming and wiring some of the final branches I want to keep. You can see the bulk of my tree will be on the left side of the trunk. I brought one of my upper right branches down to try to even out the tree and get some branching on the right to even it up. The wiring isn’t perfect, but I’m still learning and practicing. I’ll feed heavily and give another update towards the end of the year when the new growth hardens off.

Stay tuned!

First Post, First Chinese Elm, First Repot of the Season

Well hello there guys.  Thanks for checking this out.  I plan to update this blog as I work on my trees, mainly for my own documentation and entertainment.  It might also be helpful for others who are just starting out with my most recent love obsession with the art of Bonsai.

I am most definitely not an expert as this will be my second year researching and working with trees.  If you want more quality information, seek out the multitude of great informational sites out there as well as forums. Read, read, read! There is so much information out there it is staggering.  Some of it is conflicting, so try to seek out other locals who you can learn from and see what works in your area.  A lot of the fun is trial and error so don’t sweat if you kill trees.  Stumps are the price of admission.

Your own experience will vary based on your climate, location, level of horticultural knowledge, species you choose to work with, etc.  I could write a book just about the basics, but it probably wouldn’t be that noteworthy or interesting.  Feel free to research it on your own and we can chat about it.

Ok….let’s get crackin.


I received this Chinese Elm (Ulmus Parvifolia) late last Spring and have not touched it.  I picked it up as pictured from a friend on a forum for a great price.  It also came in this Iker pot which was probably worth more I paid for the tree.  There are a lot of nice folks interested in this art.  I have a feeling he just did me a solid since I am a newbie.  I’ll have to pay that forward in a few years.

I was leaving for work this morning and decided to check out my trees on the way out.  It has been a cold winter here in Southeast SC but Spring is rapidly approaching.  I was very surprised to see some buds beginning to swell along the branches of my tree. 


This species is a vigorous grower and can tolerate a lot of treatment other trees can’t take.  It is also easy to grow in most climates and is a great choice for a beginner.  The time to repot your trees are right as buds are swelling and before they leaf out.  I have been extremely eager to get my hands dirty so I was pleased that I would have something to do tonight after my boys went to bed. First thing’s first, let’s get out everything you will need to repot a tree.


Your new pot.  What?  That’s not a pot?! This tree is several years away from a fancy pot. This is a grow box.  I made this from pallets that I have scavenged from various places and broke down into usable planks. You can see a few more planks pictured behind the box. The metal screen is 1/4″ hardware cloth I bought from Lowe’s. A larger than needed growing container allows the tree to  grow a more full root system.  We need fine rooting and lots of them.  The roots should also spread radially from the base of the tree and are usually visible in a potted tree.  This is referred to as the nebari.


You also need to have your soil components prepared and ready to go.  I am using a blend of 4 different products that I mix myself.  It is much cheaper to buy in bulk and mix your own but you need to know the likes and dislikes of the species you are working with.  Some prefer more damp conditions while others prefer drier conditions.  This is a general blend that I will use in varying percentages for all my trees.  From left to right: Pumice (Purchased as Dry Stall), Chopped Pine Bark (Purchased as Top Soil from Lowe’s), Oil Dri (Purchased from Advance Auto), and Turface MVP(Purchased from John Deere Landscaping.  Dad will be proud. Nothing runs like a Deere!) You might notice that only one of these products is organic and the rest are inorganic.  This is intended so that the soil does not retain too much moisture.  You want very free draining soil in uniform particle sizes that also allow the root system to receive oxygen.  All of these products have been sieved down to 1/8″.  I mix them in equal parts and come up with:


Pencil for scale.  Sorry, I didn’t have a banana on hand


I have placed a bottom layer of all purpose gravel in my box simply because my soil is in 1/8″ particles and my screen is 1/4″.  A lot of time and PBR went into sifting it out so I don’t want it to wash through the screen and lose it.  I have also threaded a piece of wire through the screen and up through the gravel/soil so that I can secure the tree to the pot.  You don’t want it to move around and disturb root development or fall out when you are moving your tree around


I put a thin layer of my soil blend on the gravel and moved on to the interesting part…the tree!


I removed the tree from the pot it was in and inspected the root system.  I have no idea when it was last repotted but the roots were in pretty good shape.  You repot once every 1-2 years for most trees in training.  Ideally, we don’t want any thick roots, downward growing roots, or roots that circle around the pot. 


After using a chopstick to comb out the original soil I was able to see a few roots that are thicker than the rest of the fine, feeder roots.  I removed those with care not to remove too much of what I want to keep.


You can also see a large knob directly under the base of the tree.  This also needs to come off so that the tree can sit as flat as possible and deeper to allow the roots to spread radially.


After working down the bulge with my knob cutters, I have a flat bottom.  It looks like a lot of damage to the tree, but this species is very tough and you won’t even notice this when I repot it in another 2 years.


Final look at the roots before it goes into the box.  It is critical to get the roots in a workable and healthy state before even attempting to style the tree.  If you don’t have a solid foundation to build upon, you are wasting your time.  A healthy root system will feed the canopy in a more efficient manner and look more pleasing when it matures.  Roots before shoots! (I stole that)Image

I placed the tree in the box, secured the wire around the base below the soil line, and filled in the gaps with soil.


Here is a picture with a tape measure so you can get an idea of the scale.  Like I said earlier, this tree is decades away from finished. Now, a fertilizing routine will begin and I can expect a lot of good growth.  I will select the branches that I want to use in the final design later in the year and wire them after giving it a haircut.  Expect an update on this tree later on in the summer when it has leafed out.


I have several more trees to repot in the coming weeks.  Stay tuned!

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